What happens when a tea sommelier and a beer guide taste test ciders from Northern Virginia’s first urban cidery? To find out, we invited two of our favorite flavor experts to Lost Boy Cider, Alexandria’s newly-opened cidery in the Carlyle neighborhood. Strolling under a sprawling exterior mural and up to the tasting counter are Alfonso Wright, co-owner of Brooklyn Tea and Visit Alexandria’s digital marketing manager, and Emma Quinn, beer guide and events & marketing manager for Alexandria’s award-winning Port City Brewing Company.

With Lost Boy Cider founder Tristan Wright as their drink docent, Emma and Alfonso enjoy a cider flight while talking shop about the challenges of starting a business and the thrill of developing new flavors, while discovering what “scrumping” is and why one sip sent a recent customer crying for joy. Whether you’re an apple wine novice or a serious fan, a beer loyalist or a tea lover, join in on the tasting and keep reading for tips on finding your perfect cider.

Image Credit: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Introducing the Drink Experts

The buzzwords are flying between Alfonso and Tristan before anyone even takes a sip. “Earthy.” “Tropical boutique.” “A light floral flavor.” Tristan holds a beaker of magenta-hued liquid to the light as he describes his Pixie Dust cider, which pairs passionfruit with butterfly pea powder, a “divisive” flavor that tea expert Alfonso instantly identifies. The trio’s passion for their respective beverages is palpable, although their origin stories couldn’t be further apart.

Four years ago, a surprise diagnosis of severe soy and gluten allergies (he calls them “simpatico bad boys”) left Tristan reeling and re-evaluating his successful yet unfulfilling career in commercial lending. With beer and whiskey now eliminated from his diet, Tristan remembered the cider he and his wife fell in love with on their 2010 honeymoon in Ireland and dove headfirst into cider-making, earning degrees from Oregon State’s cider-making school and Cornell’s enology (wine study) program. Tristan and his team opened Lost Boy Cider’s doors in June 2019 and have been firing on all cylinders ever since.

Image Credit: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Alfonso’s relationship with tea transcends a drink preference to encompass a lifestyle. “I fell in love with tea culture before tea,” he says. Alfonso moonlights as a tea sommelier and realized his dream to bring authentic and accessible teas to his Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant when he and his fiancée opened Brooklyn Tea in early 2019. Emma’s obsession with craft beers began while she was an undergrad in Richmond. The city’s brewery scene was blossoming, and she and her friends took to experimenting with “bathtub brewing.” She got hooked on Port City while visiting Alexandria’s flagship brewery in 2014. “Port City was the first brewery where everything I tasted was good, even if it wasn’t my style,” she says. She liked it so much that she asked for a job and now serves as events & marketing manager.

Image Credit: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Drinking Up a Tasting Flight: From Scrumpy to Hoppy and Beyond

“It’s kind of cool to talk to people who like mixing things,” Tristan grins as he fills up four tulip glasses for Emma and Alfonso and sets the flights down on the gleaming maple wood counter. On this Monday afternoon off-day, Emma and Alfonso have the space to themselves, soaking up everything from the Tribe Called Quest playlist echoing through the 6,000-square foot industrial warehouse, down to the hand-welded “Lost Boy Cider” lettering above the tap dispensers and the paper cranes tucked between signs above the counter. This is a far cry from the controlled chaos of a buzzing weekend evening, when Tristan and his staff dole out recommendations, information and warm welcomes to new faces and their newfound regulars.

Aiming to hook two more regulars, Tristan lines up four samples across the flavor spectrum: Thai Rope Walker, Wild Thing, Hazy Hopped and Spicoli. A sip of the Thai Rope Walker evokes strawberries, organic Thai basil and a “perfect, homogenous balance” of six Shenandoah apples: York, Stayman, Pippins, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Galas. Next, Wild Thing adopts the Cornwall-based tradition of “scrumping,” which starts with a mischievous a late-night apple raid and ends with “wild cider” fermented using yeast from the air. Lost Boy’s riff is so authentic that it left a recent British customer in tears, reminiscing about summers spent scrumping and the “mates” he missed back home.

Image Credit: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

The third taster, Hazy Hopped, is Lost Boy’s “play on a New England IPA” and elicits the strongest response so far. Tristan’s cider-maker, former brewer Kevin Storm, utilizes a 2017 Mosaic hops crop, which wins Emma’s praise. “I prefer this” to many IPAs, she says. “It’s not bitter. It’s like cider for beer people.” The Spicoli, a pineapple-spiked play off the iconic Fast Times at Ridgemont High hero’s mid-class pizza delivery, rounds out the quartet. Yes, Tristan knows that Spicoli’s pie was topped with sausage and bologna, but with the character’s surfer-boy vibe, there’s no doubt he would have been a Hawaiian pizza fan.

After the flight, Emma and Alfonso are treated to a few bonus sips. The Comeback Kid is Tristan’s “basement cider,” the one he hopes will “put Lost Boy on the map,” and the first to be canned and sold in six-packs. This crisp flavor is made with 100% dirt-farmed, hand-pressed Virginia apples, which suggests everything from an orchard on a sunny day, according to Emma, to the notes of vanilla that Alfonso detects. The Prohibition, naturally honey-sweet and alcohol-free, is a surprise hit. It’s carbonated just enough to sparkle on a special occasion, but thoroughly chug-able in a pint glass on a hot day.

Image Credit: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Hooking New Fans with Healthy Alternatives and Authentic Flavors

Alfonso and Tristan lay the groundwork in their start-up shops for an inviting atmosphere while encouraging their customers to try something new. “When someone smiles and drinks your drink, you think, ‘I could do this another day,’” Alfonso says. He tells the story of a tea novice who wandered into Brooklyn Tea in search of chocolate milk. Alfonso saw his chocolate milk and raised him a Belgian chocolate rooibos tea, splashed with almond milk. One sip in and the customer was sold, soon upgrading from rooibos to yerba mate to cream earl grey with no sugar.

Alfonso believes that when the ingredients are pure, the taste doesn’t need to be dressed up with sweeteners. In other words, “They don’t know it’s healthy because it’s delicious.” Tristan, too, hopes to win over cider newbies and skeptics with standout flavors. Unlike the ultra-sweet hard ciders that most people are familiar with, Lost Boy Ciders are all-natural, containing no added sweetener and losing most of the residual sugar during fermentation. There is an irresistible, personal element that manifests in every sip. “I put everything I have in my heart into the quality of the product,” Tristan says. If his jam-packed tasting room, food truck queues and enthusiastic taste-testers are any indication, whatever is in that heart is worth bottling up.

Image Credit: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Meeting the Lost Boy Tanks and Sniffing Secret Flavors

“I know a lot about oxidation. I don’t know much about fermentation,” Alfonso admits. The tea steeper soon receives a crash course in cider production as Tristan introduces Lost Boy’s heroes—Toodles, Curly, the Twins, Mibs, Goose and Chunk—all named after some of pop culture’s most recognizable “lost boys,” Neverland natives and otherwise. These tanks are responsible for churning out gallon after gallon of apple wine. When asked about the inspiration for the names, the cidery’s head lost boy explains simply, “me at thirteen.” After a few straight-from-the-tank tastings of Wingman and Comeback Kid, Tristan concludes the tour with a trip to the walk-in refrigerator for a sneak peek of a secret flavor in development, courtesy of a jug packed with fruity flavors.

Cold-Crashing Tanks to Smashing Success: Serendipity and Cider

Tristan’s vacillates between a contagious sense of wonder for the way his life has led him here (“It’s amazing to me, the timing of things,” he says), and tongue-in-cheek references to the humble aspects of his job. Caught cleaning the floor as his guests entered, Tristan admits that in his field, “basically, you’re a janitor who makes booze.” Emma and Alfonso agree that beyond the paperwork and logistics, much of their time is spent on mopping, maintenance and managing ratios of time and temperature. But this routine still leaves room for experimentation and, occasionally, an unexpected blessing in disguise.

Serendipity was a key ingredient in Lost Boy Cider’s The Incident. During the primary fermentation phase, the glycol system stayed on all night, prematurely cold-crashing the tank. When Tristan and his team discovered the malfunction, released the ice and re-fired the cider naturally, they were left with a Vermont iced cider that is “super-sweet and bone dry.” The result was so successful that they have sent a sample to Virginia Tech for analysis. Port City Brewing Company experienced a similar providential mistake with their Derecho lager, when the namesake 2012 tropical storm cut the brewery’s power for five days while the fermentation tank temperature crept higher and higher. The popular resulting lager is released every summer.

From health crisis to career shift, malfunctioning tanks to tasting flights, Lost Boy Cider’s story is a tale of resilience—more “never give up” than “never grow up.” “Apples found me,” Tristan says, and now he’s letting others in on the adventure. How very Peter Pan of him.

Ready to head to Lost Boy Cider to try a flight for yourself?  Swipe through the slideshow below for Alfonso, Emma and Tristan’s recommendations for personalized cider picks.

Header Image Credit: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

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